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The Man Who Fell to Earth is another piece of space junk cluttering the streaming universe

It's been six years since David Bowie left our planet and some things still make his loss feel all the more profound.

One of them is watching The Man Who Fell to Earth, now streaming on Paramount+.

Not that this sci-fi series, which takes its name from Bowie's 1976 film (and hopes to appropriate some its aura to the point of naming each episode after a Bowie song) can be accused of being particularly bad, it can't, it's perfectly adequate.

Bill Nighy, right, plays the 2022 incarnation of Bowie's Thomas Jerome Newton. Picture: Showtime

Bill Nighy, right, plays the 2022 incarnation of Bowie's Thomas Jerome Newton. Picture: Showtime

But it can be accused of being yet another piece of space junk cluttering the streaming universe.

Like a tree falling in an empty forest, does a TV show dropped into our content-addled reality ever really screen?

Such existentialism, along with everything from climate change to the cult of the corporation, is taken on in the new iteration of TMWFTE but the only primal impulse it generates is for the viewer to seek out the source material, and they'll be more rewarded if they do.

Based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis (the prodigious talent responsible for The Hustler and The Queen's Gambit), the 1976 version of The Man Who Fell to Earth is the story of an alien called Thomas Jerome Newton who comes to our blue planet in the hope of hauling some of its water back to his dying, drought-stricken home world.

Newton's quest begins purposely enough but he slowly falls victim to the many Earthly vices to which he's exposed - one of them, fittingly enough, being too much telly.

British director Nicolas Roeg insisted Bowie take the lead role - his first - and used a production crew of his fellow countrymen to shoot the movie, mostly around New Mexico. The results were stunning. Roeg, coming off the back of Walkabout and Don't Look Now, cemented his standing as a cinematic visionary and Bowie cemented his as a kooky, protean genius.

Although the movie is too long and too exploitative of its, often naked, female cast, watching The Man Who Fell to Earth more than 40 years after its release remains a singular, mesmerising pleasure.

The creators of the new Showtime series insist it's not necessary to have seen Roeg's masterpiece because their work is not a remake, it's a standalone sequel, which is true enough, if not a little cute because we're following pretty much the same plot.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Naomi Harris star in the reboot. Picture: Paramount+

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Naomi Harris star in the reboot. Picture: Paramount+

If there is, however, a compelling reason to give TMWFTE ago, it's the performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays our E.T. 2.0 on a mission to achieve fusion, and Naomi Harris, his terrestrial contact with a criminally unappreciated brain for science. Tying the whole sequel idea together (albeit proving a tad cavalier with continuity) is the further excellent casting of Bill Nighy as the 2022 incarnation of Bowie's Newton.

There are also obvious creative enticements to reimagine TMWFTE (let's not forget the 1987 TV movie version, either) through a fresh lens. Visually, we can be wowed by CGI advancements and narratively we can be sated by contemporaneous componentry such as an Elon Musk-esque tech lord and our species' dangerous habit of shrugging off environmental catastrophe.

Overwhelmingly, however, the new version of TMWFTE leaves one thinking, other than producing content for content's sake, what's the point?

Planets apart: David Bowie and Candy Clark in the 1976 version of The Man Who Fell To Earth. Picture: Paramount+

Planets apart: David Bowie and Candy Clark in the 1976 version of The Man Who Fell To Earth. Picture: Paramount+

The same way Jonathan Glazer made a sublime celluloid companion piece to sit with Michel Faber's 2000 novel Under the Skin, Roeg had already transformed Tevis' The Man Who Fell to Earth intosomething beautiful and enriching for the screen, so why return for another helping?

Just as Bowie's alien sat stupefied in front of several TV screens back in 1976 (he also admitted to a hefty cocaine habit at the time), modern audiences are being overwhelmed by the glut of content being churned out by ever-expanding streaming platforms.

This sensory overload is now translating to the boardroom and to the bottom line.

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Netflix recently shocked everyone by revealing it had lost subscribers for the first time in a decade. Although, unlike its competitors, whose streaming services are extensions of multi-faceted media entities, Netflix remains pretty much a SVOD (subscription video on demand) service and analysts suggest the pioneer's troubles prove the rapid rise of alternative platforms is beginning to reshape the streaming landscape.

Some may see this as good news; more content means more entertainment, while others, already suffering some minor paralysis of choice, may fear they can no longer take on the streaming behemoth and would be better off with the simple life of watching repeats of RBT on free-to-air TV.

One thing, however, remains certain, our lust for content means the once-sanctified output of luminaries such as Roeg and Bowie is now little else than a resource to be mined for the caprices of 21st century consumers.

Whatever happened to letting sleeping diamond dogs lie?

This story Yet another piece of space junk cluttering the streaming universe first appeared on The Canberra Times.